Updated: 4 January 2020
By Evan O'Donoghue
“Who am I?”
It’s a simple question that has intrigued philosophers for thousands of years, and yet the answer seems more illusive and confused than ever given the current cultural and political climate.
I was recently asked to speak on the topic of identity (full audio below) and want to elaborate on some of the themes raised as we search for answers.
In this article.
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Knowing God is key to understanding our true identity.
At City we have four key values of the church. They are (in no particular order); Kingdom Culture, His Presence, Family and Identity. Of identity, it states, “Knowing God is key to understanding our own identity and being comfortable in our own skin.”
I want to focus on the first part of that statement for just a moment… “Knowing God is key to understanding our own identity...”
If we have any hope of finding our true identity, we must first know God, the giver of all things. It stands to reason that an omniscient God, our creator, would know us even better than we know ourselves.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27 (NIV), “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Faith comes first (the bedrock), and then we’re ready to build the remaining structure.
Our identity is a key foundational concept. I like to think of it as the concrete slab that sits on top of the bedrock. If we get this wrong, it can undermine the whole house.
I had a friend who always struggled with this concept of identity. For the purpose of this story, I’ll call her Amanda.
Amanda accepted Jesus and started walking in faith, though she never really believed she was forgiven for her past wrongs. You see, Amanda didn’t see herself as part of God’s family; that somehow she was exempt from grace and the inheritance.
On the day of Amanda’s baptism, a travelling preacher (who had never met her before), spoke prophetically to her during his sermon. Pinpointing the lie she had believed, he began to declare her identity in God’s family.
It was powerfully received at the time, but unfortunately lost in time. To this day Amanda has left the faith. I wonder if she had taken these words to heart and declared them as truth, she would have recreated her identity, and would still be following Christ today.
We need to affirm our identity in Christ, as brothers and sisters to a loving Father in heaven.
David & Goliath.
Reflecting on this topic of identity, I was drawn by the Holy Spirit to examine the story of David and Goliath.
You might know the story well, but have you ever looked at it through the lens of identity? I was blown away by just how much it emanates throughout the narrative.
Before we look at the scripture, here’s a summary of the wider story for some context.
David is a young shepherd, who is running errands for his father between the family farm and the Israelite army which is stationed nearby against the Philistines. Each day a giant Philistine warrior, named Goliath, taunts the Israelites and challenges them to a one-on-one duel to decide the battle. While all the Israelite soldiers cower in fear, David decides to take action.
In 1 Samuel 17:41-45 (NIV) we read:
“Meanwhile, [Goliath], with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. ‘Come here,’ he said, ‘and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!’ David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.’”
If you’re familiar with the story, you’ll know what happens next. David defeats Goliath in spectacular fashion, and the term ‘David and Goliath’ lives on to this day to become synonymous with the little guy overcoming adversity to defeat the big bad guy.
Looking at the story with fresh eyes, I want to unpack three key aspects of this encounter that relate to identity.
1. Your identity is a key battlefield.
As previously stated, your identity is a key foundational concept. It stands to reason then that Satan, the “father of lies”, would want to destroy it all the more. A distorted, confused and erroneous identity can have devastating consequences to the whole, so we need to be aware of the enemy’s schemes.
In 1 Samuel 17:43 (NIV), Goliath says to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?”
At first glance, this might seem like innocent name calling. Of all the things Goliath could have said to David, this seems fairly innocuous, but there’s more to this than you might think.
Consider a stick in the context of this scripture. A stick is a harmless play thing for a dog. It’s an inanimate object. Useless.
Ever been called useless before?
The enemy often attacks our endeavours through self doubt, calling us useless, completely ineffective and incapable at every turn. It’s one of his favourite insults.
Now we might expect this from the Goliath’s of the world - an enemy who is actively trying to sabotage the victory - but what of our presumed allies? Trusted family and friends who should be otherwise supporting us?
We might expect the battle for our identity to be at the frontline, but it hurts all the more when it’s from within our own ranks, because our defenses are not amassed there. We don’t always see it coming, and for this reason, it can be far more damaging.
Earlier, in the story, David has to convince King Saul that he’s worthy to fight Goliath. In 1 Samuel 17:33, Saul responds by saying, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth” (NIV).
You might think this is fair enough. David was young and his enemy, Goliath, was at the peak of his game.
But there’s more to this story. By this stage, Saul had a habit of disobeying God and pursuing his own wants and aspirations. He lacked faith.
Our omniscient God, already knew the outcome of the battle, and you get the sense He’s waiting for someone like David, a man after His own heart, to step up and fight for Him.
As King of Israel, Saul should have been the one to face Goliath, but instead he attempts to impair God’s anointed replacement.
In the space of one sentence, Saul simultaneously undermines David’s identity, while promoting the enemy.
Of David, he calls him “a young man”. In other words, inexperienced, incapable and weak.
Of Goliath, there’s only praise, “...he has been a warrior from his youth”. Saul is endorsing the enemy, suggesting Goliath is experienced, dangerous, elite and strong.
I shudder to think of the malicious things people have been called by their own supposed allies; their parents, siblings, partners or friends. The damage this can cause to a person’s identity can be devastating.
A teacher at school punished my brother for misbehaviour, by instructing him to write “I’m stupid” 100 times. Though a strong disciplinarian, my father rightfully took exception to this. He understood the crucial difference between behaviour and identity, and the need to correct the former when awry, without shattering the latter.
In both of the examples mentioned above (verses 33 & 43), David responds to the attacks by proclaiming who God is, and who he is in God and in deed.
In 1 Samuel 17:34-37 (NIV), David says to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
In other words, “I’m a lion slayer; I’m a bear slayer, and God will rescue me.”
We do well to do the same when the enemy tries to undermine us, by reaffirming who God is and what we’ve been able to achieve through His love, grace and power.
2. Don’t try to be someone you’re not.
I have a strong caveat attached to this point, but I’ll get to that shortly.
In 1 Samuel 17:38-39 (NIV), Saul finally permits David to fight Goliath.
“Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.”
Saul is trying to make David into his version of a warrior, by dressing him for the part. You see, they were both fighters, but David didn’t fit the traditional soldier mold Saul was accustomed to.
We’re often tempted to do the same, by wearing a mask to become someone else.
The truth is, we’re all unique and have different roles to play in the body of Christ. Our individual skills, talents, passions, personalities and approaches are all part of our God-given identity for His glory.
Rick Warren said, “Wearing a mask wears you out. Faking it is fatiguing. The most exhausting activity is pretending to be what you know you aren’t.”
I do say this with caution, however, because I believe Satan is using this same point for evil, by distorting the truth.
It’s commonly sold to us with false taglines such as, “born this way”, or “be true to yourself”.
These seemingly innocent statements are often used to justify all manner of evil, akin to, “I’m born into sin, and my inherent nature is evil. Therefore, I’m justified in my sin.”
It’s a lie, and people are deceiving themselves with this mindset.
The truth is, we’re all on a journey to become more Christlike. Some of us are called to be preachers, others missionaries, administrators and even seamstresses. Look up Dorcas in Acts 9. She had a simple ministry and did it diligently. She wasn’t a famous preacher or prophet, and yet her name sits with honour in the Bible.
When I first started preaching I wanted to be just like Joyce Meyer. I love her presence and style, but I can’t be her, nor am I called to be.
Does this mean I dismiss self assessment, honest critique, and avoid learning new public speaking techniques? Of course not. I will modify my methods for my audience, as I grow and improve, for God’s glory. Ultimately, however, I will be the same person you meet behind the pulpit, as the person sitting in the aisle. I won’t pretend to be someone else. God has tenderly knitted me together in my mother’s womb to be me and the same applies to you.
3. Knowing our identity in God is immensely comforting in a turbulent world.
In 1 Samuel 17:45-46 David says to Goliath, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.”
When was the last time you said that to the devil and his attacks?
You can hear the confidence and self assurance in David’s words, knowing who God is and who he is in God.
Our identity in God is incredibly reassuring. Through Him, we too can face the Goliaths of our world, standing firm against the storms of life.
Our God-given identity.
Flicking through the Bible we find a wealth of encouragement, declaring the nature of God and our identity in Him.
Did you know the first statement concerning humanity found in the Bible is an identity affirming declaration? Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
Did you hear that? You are not a mistake; the result of some random biological chemical reaction. Nor are you some play thing for an indifferent god, discarded like ants on this side of the galaxy. No, you are wonderfully made. You are significant, valuable and cherished by a holy, holy, holy God, who has set us apart from all creation in His own image.
Today, I believe our God-given identity is under attack. We even educate our kids at school that they are nothing more than animals, hurtling through space on this clump of dirt we call Earth.
Well, I believe that if you tell someone they’re nothing more than an animal long enough, they’ll eventually start acting like one.
Don’t believe that lie. Your true identity is found in God, our heavenly father.
I had a friend who suffered periodic bouts of depression. On one occasion, he was working in the Australian outback, miles from anywhere, as a labourer digging trenches in 35°C to 40°C heat. He was so incensed with his mental health struggles, he threw down his shovel in anger, set a beeline for the horizon, and took off to die. He took no provisions. No food. No water. Let me assure you, in these hot and dry conditions, you won’t last long.
As he walked, he shook his fist at the sky shouting, “God! You made me this way. I’m broken. I was made wrong.”
He eventually arrived at the coast and challenged God (I don’t recommend you do this - Deuteronomy 6:16 and Luke 4:12), saying “If you really love me, you’d save me.” At that precise moment, he saw a plastic bottle bobbing in the ocean. He waded out to collect it and sure enough, it was full of fresh water. As he drank, God spoke profoundly to him, “You are precious to me. I love you and I have a hope and a future for you.”
From that moment on he was determined to survive, eventually returning to civilisation to share his encounter.
No matter who you are, or where you’ve been, nothing exempts you from your true identity found in Jesus.
You can listen to my original message on identity below:
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